This rather unsurprising news broke last night, but it won’t become “official” until this afternoon if the initial reports are accurate. In Palm Beach County, Florida, the State Prosecutor is expected to announce that Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski will not be prosecuted on a misdemeanor charge of battery for grabbing the arm of then Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields. Details from Politico.
A Florida prosecutor has decided not to prosecute Donald Trump’s campaign manager for battery after a March run-in with former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields, sources with knowledge of the situation told POLITICO.
The decision not to press charges against Corey Lewandowski is scheduled to be announced on Thursday afternoon by Palm Beach County State Attorney David Aronberg.
Fields may still pursue a defamation case against Lewandowski, a source said.
This is playing out much the way I’d expected when the story first broke. Local officials have stated that there’s a relatively low threshold for bringing charges in a battery case, but a considerably higher bar for moving forward to trial. In the early days after the initial incident I was listening to a number of legal analysts, including CNN’s Joey Jackson, who described the many complications which might stand in the way of a conviction in this case and those were no doubt on the mind of the prosecutors. Launching a media circus such as this would have become would turn into something of a debacle for the town if they couldn’t bring in a conviction, and that was far from assured.
The first factor under consideration was the fact that, in order to prove the charge of battery, there needs to be a convincing case made that there was at least some element of intent to cause harm, no matter how slight. Lewandowski’s attorney had a built-in defense available against that by simply saying that his official duties included keeping people in the scrum from getting too close to, or coming in contact with the candidate. If that required pulling someone away, so be it. It’s not iron clad, but it would introduce doubt into the minds of the jury.
A second point would no doubt be raised based on reports that at least one of Trump’s Secret Service agents allegedly said that Fields had already been warned to keep her distance and she chose to come inside the protective circle around Trump and touch him anyway. I’m unaware of any special protections which could prevent the court from calling on the security detail to give testimony, and if they could get one of them on the stand to say the same thing it may have bottomed out the case entirely.
The other consideration for the prosecutor is the likelihood of prying a guilty verdict out of the jury even if the aforementioned difficulties could be overcome. Trump is pretty popular in his “second home” of Florida (as the primary results indicated) so what are the odds that the county could make it through voir dire and wind up with a jury that wouldn’t contain at least some enthusiastic Trump supporters? If I was in their shoes I wouldn’t have bet the ranch on my chances.
In the end, this was a minor charge which rarely goes to trial anywhere. That’s not to minimize the situation for Michelle Fields, but let’s be honest here… if that had been a male reporter being grabbed by Lewandowski nobody would have been talking about a court case. If Corey had simply apologized immediately and said he was sorry for grabbing her too roughly the entire event would have passed without much notice, and I seem to recall Fields indicating as much herself during early interviews. Instead, Lewandowski threw up a wall and the battle moved forward.
Can Fields prevail in some sort of civil action and will she even want to try? That question can be left for the future but I find it hard to imagine what the damages might be unless there’s some sort of suppression of the Freedom of the Press put into play.